The rhetoric is changing. In the last few months we have seen federal and state politicians overtly mooting the need to shift migration patterns from the eastern seaboard to regional areas. This is great news for South Australia (our entire state is classified as a regional area for immigration purposes).

In March 2018, the federal government removed all concessions available to regional employers under the regional employer sponsorship program, (save for one concession – access to a regional occupation list). From March 2018, all employers in regional areas had to meet all of the same requirements as non regional employers. These include:

  • Requiring the visa applicant to have 3 years full time work experience post qualification (eliminating graduates from the cohort of eligible applicants)
  • the Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold applies – meaning employers in regional areas must pay the equivalent of eastern seaboard salaries
  • the Skilling Australia Fund levy applies to regional employers (removing previous concession of free applications for regional employers)

At the same time, the department made the temporary employer sponsorship visa (Temporary Skills Shortage (TSS)) much tougher to obtain. Labour market testing requirements were extended meaning employers must now go through a 4 week recruitment period prior to an application being able to be made. A skilling Australia Fund levy was introduced, as well as increases in visa application charges meant that TSS visa applications now cost around $15,000 for a family of four, whereas only a few years ago that same visa would have cost around $4,000.

The government also reduced the invitations issued to skilled migrants under the general skilled migration program, meaning many people are still waiting in the queue from September 2017. In July 2018 the government announced an increase to the minimum points required for a skilled visa from 60 to 65. This made it tougher again and had the effect of significantly reducing the number of eligible skilled migrants.

The data and rhetoric was clear – skilled migration was being reduced overtly, and employers in regional areas no longer had the ability to attract skilled labour using the immigration program. It was looking pretty bleak for regional areas.

In November 2017, the then assistant immigration minister Stephen Hawke addressed the Migration Institute of Australia conference. In that address he explained that up until recently, he had thought of the immigration program through the lens of urban Sydney. He had not considered that immigration growth was different depending on the location you were observing in Australia. Adelaide, for example, was not growing in population and if it wasn’t for the immigration intake we were receiving, our population would have declined markedly. Mr Hawke had not realised this until late 2017 it seems. At the same conference, the shadow minister for Immigration talked about reduction in skilled migration, citing that hospitality occupations were being overused. He had not considered that hospitality businesses in regional areas have great difficulty attracting suitably skilled cooks, chefs and managers, and that the hospitality industry is one of the most important in the Australian economy, let alone tourism centric regional areas.

Fast forward to June 2018 and the rhetoric started changing. Ministers, politicians, the media all started talking about how regional areas needed more migration, while the major cities in the eastern seaboard require reduced migration. The infrastructure requirements in the eastern cities had not kept up with population growth, and the voting public had started to have enough of it. A housing bubble and frustrating traffic congestion were the outward symptoms of the eastern cities not being proactive in preparing for population growth augmented by immigration. Anti immigration sentiments coming out of the US, Europe and Britain struck fear in the minds of politicians, who on one hand knew of the great benefits of immigration but on the other, fearful that a shift to the radical right anti immigration movement would curtail economic growth and their election!

The solution was clear. Keep the immigration intake at the required level (arguably for Australia’s economic strength and future strategic geopolitical stability our immigration intake should be increased slightly each year to ensure the same percentage of growth is achieved), but adjust the intake so that more migrants settle in regional areas. The constituents in the major eastern cities will be acquiesced while the economies of the regional hubs receive much needed economic support.

We are now at the point where the South Australian government has openly advocated for a greater immigration intake to South Australia and the federal government appear to be listening. This is excellent news for South Australia, and we are optimistic that real benefits can be achieved for our state in the near future. This week the Migration Institute of South Australia provided written submissions to the South Australian Parliament addressing how South Australia’s immigration intake might be improved. Here are some practical measures that can be taken to improve economic outcomes in South Australia¬† :

  • a new regional employer sponsored visa allowing employers in South Australia to sponsor migrants for skilled positions
  • greater bonus points for international student graduates who study in South Australia
  • less onerous business turnover and net worth requirements for potential business migrants to South Australia
  • increased quota available to skilled migrants for sponsorship by the South Australian government
  • increased length of the graduate visa for international students who study in South Australia
  • introduction of special rules for regional employers in accessing the temporary skills shortage visa
  • removal of disincentives such as the stamp duty surcharge and school fees for migrants to South Australia
  • growing the international student population in South Australia and develop our international education reputation
  • foster entrepreneurship in South Australia by providing visas to promising entrepreneur migrants

 

We know the South Australian government is working hard with the Federal Government to develop new visa options for regional migration. We wait with baited breath to see what those look like. In the meantime we continue to advocate for the return of important regional concessions and the development of further initiatives to grow migration to South Australia and create economic growth and a sustainable economic future for all South Australians. Stay tuned – we will keep you updated with all the latest announcements when they start to come.